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Connecting to joy

3 May 2022

One of the world’s most successful travel writers considers how houseplants have the power to change disconnected lives for the better. Including her own. Words & Photos Liz Carlson

In a day and age when the world seems so unpredictable, where we’ve spent unexpected chunks of time stuck at home, and where our lives seem to trickle by with Facebook posts and tweets about the news, it’s no wonder there has been a total and complete renaissance of hobbies that involve our hands. With so many hours spent scrolling online and tapping screens, there’s been a reckoning, especially with my fellow burnt-out millennials when it comes to disconnecting. We crave it. We need something to balance out just how much of our lives take place online. We see this with the growing interest in sustainable
gardening, pottery, tramping, and even houseplants. There’s an urge within so many of us to find simple joys in making things and caring for things. And there is a profound communal sense of trying to get closer to nature or even bring nature inside.

It’s no coincidence that houseplant sales boomed with the COVID pandemic and the first lockdowns in New Zealand. Bored, stressed, and stuck at home, many of us began to invest like crazy in making our spaces more comfortable and happy, as well as looking for at-home hobbies that spark joy. And there are only so many times you can rearrange your closets before you need to find something else to do.

Indoor plants were there and ready to fill the void. In the years leading up to COVID, I had what I can only
describe as a mild to moderate case of houseplant fever. It all started with orchids. Well, actually it all started with fresh-cut florals. Every few weeks I would buy myself a bouquet of flowers to brighten up my flat in Wānaka. One day my eyes shifted to the orchids next to the checkout desk and I decided to swap my flowers for a plant, which I immediately killed by accident. Undeterred, a few months later I brought home a little peace lily, and then it was all go from there.

In many ways houseplants saved me. For years I was caught up in the mania of building a media career, flying all over the world for work and being online 24/7 without any sense of balance. The precious few weeks I would get at home in Wānaka would allow me some time to relax and disconnect. I turned to my plants. With my phone turned off, I would potter on my deck, repotting, propagating, and learning everything I could about these curious tropical specimens. It wasn’t the complete work-life balance I
needed, but it was enough to keep me going.

Eventually moving to Lyttelton for love, when the pandemic began and all of my work dried up in a few days, I realised this might be the opportunity I needed to pivot my work and allow me to develop a job that would be less demanding and not require me to get on a plane to be paid. With more knowledge of horticulture under my belt, I began to sell plants and cuttings as a side hustle. When the chance came to use the space of a downtown historic building in Lyttelton, I thought to myself, why not do a houseplant pop-up shop?

Sharing the love

Plants had brought me so much happiness, I wanted to spread the love with fellow collectors like me on the South Island. Merging my love of style and design, my pop-up slowly shifted into a permanent store called NODE, offering boutique houseplants and workshops for people just like me. Suffering from a severe case of imposter syndrome, after all, I’ve never actually run a physical brick-and-mortar business before, so creating NODE was another great test in trying to build a more balanced life for myself, as well as building a community of people drawn to the idea of bringing nature inside.

From a lonely drooping orchid on my kitchen bench to owning my own collection of hundreds of rare tropical plants to managing a shop housing thousands of plants, my knowledge of the indoor plant world grew by leaps and bounds. There is such joy to be found in watching something grow, nurturing a baby plant, and even watching a new leaf unfurl. In many ways, plants are meditative, allowing us to slow down, centre ourselves, and disconnect from our busy lives.

Whether you have a little succulent on your bedroom shelf that soaks up the morning light or a peace lily
gathering dust in the corner of your lounge, or a grow tent filled with some of the rarest aroids in the world, houseplant fans in New Zealand are united by a love of all things green. Plants make amazing gifts for our loved ones on any occasion, and even just gifting potted cuttings you grew yourself can be incredibly special.

Many scientific studies have delved into the ‘why’ around houseplants and the mental health benefits they bring, from boosting productivity in the workplace to reducing crime in cities to even demonstrating that hospital patients recover faster. These stoic creatures have more benefits for us than we probably will ever realise.

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